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A Primer on Priorities

By Michael Brian Thompson | Associate Professor, Practical Theology, Ashland Theological Seminary, Ashland, Ohio

In spring 2012, millions of Americans took note of the swelling jackpot in the Mega Millions Lottery extravaganza that numerous states sponsor. The payoff for a winning ticket was potentially more than $500 million. Even though chances of winning were about 1 in 175 million, Americans rushed out to buy a chance at untold wealth. According to one report, in 48 hours Americans spent $1.5 billion on lottery tickets, hoping for financial immortality.

Eventually there were three winners who split the money, but there were more than 100 million losers. One of them was a man from California, who according to one news outlet, bought $1,080 in lottery tickets and won absolutely nothing.

In such depressing economic times, we might be tempted to ask, "Why would Americans stand in line to throw away their money?" Think of the collective good that might have been done if that $1.5 billion had been harnessed and spent on projects for the needy. No doubt there were individuals who didn't have money to spend so frivolously. It was likely needed for groceries or to pay bills. It seems like such a waste—a perfect example of wrong priorities.

Before those of us who didn't buy lottery tickets become too sanctimonious, perhaps we should take a look in the mirror and ask a question of ourselves: "Do I have the wrong priorities ordering my life?"

That brings us to our text today. Luke 10 gives us a brief but provocative and revealing story in which Jesus makes us scratch our collective heads about what He was asserting.

The story goes like this: Jesus was travelling with His disciples in the precincts around Jerusalem, and they came to the small village of Bethany, where Jesus entered the home of two sisters, Mary and Martha.

Martha was thoughtful, dutiful and observant of all the customs. She was getting the house ready for their distinguished guest. She was a little frantic—running to and fro, getting everything together; and everything needs to be put together. Thank goodness for Martha. Where would we be without the Marthas of the world getting things done?

Mary, the other sister, seems similar to many people we know. She sat around listening to Jesus while someone else did all the work—indifferent to the things that needed to be done. She appeared apathetic and lazy to Martha.

Mary reminds me a little of how my wife described her sister growing up in their home. The girls were required to do the dishes nightly after dinner. My wife, Josetta, was charged with the task of washing the dishes. Doing the washing included myriad tasks. She had to clear the table, scrape the food remnants into the garbage, run the soap and water, scrub the pots and pans, and wipe down the counters and the stainless steel. This was hard and dirty business!

Charma, my wife's sister, was to dry the dishes. Instead of really drying them, she waited until the dishes dried on their own. While they were drying, she would be watching TV in the living room, talking to a friend on the phone, doing her nails or reading a magazine. Once the dishes were dry—just before she went to bed—she would put them away—a brief and small responsibility.

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